SUNDAY HOMILIES FOR YEAR C
By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Gospel
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The Cookie Thief


2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13 Galatians 2:15-16, 19-20 Luke 7:36-8:3

Today’s gospel reminds one of the story of the cookie thief. A woman at the airport waiting to catch her flight bought herself a bag of cookies, settled in a chair in the airport lounge and began to read her book. Suddenly she noticed the man beside her helping himself with cookies from the cookie bag between them. Not wanting to make a scene, she read on, ate cookies, and watched the clock. As the daring “cookie thief” kept on eating the cookies she got more irritated and said to herself, “If I wasn’t so nice, I’d blacken his eye!” With each cookie she took, he took one too. When only one was left, she wondered what he would do. Then with a smile on his face and a nervous laugh, he took the last cookie and broke it in half. He offered her half, and he ate the other. She snatched it from him and thought, “Oh brother, this guy has some nerve, and he’s also so rude, why, he didn’t even show any gratitude!” She sighed with relief when her flight was called. She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate, refusing to look at the ungrateful “thief.” She boarded the plane and sank in her seat, then reached in her baggage to fetch her book, and what she saw made her gasp with surprise. For there in front of her eyes was her bag of cookies. Then it dawned on her that the cookies she ate in the lounge was the man’s and not hers, that the man was not a thief but a friend who tried to share, that she was the rude one, the ungrateful one, the thief.

The cookie thief story reminds us, as we see in today’s gospel, that it often happens that the one pointing the accusing finger turns out to be the guilty one, that the complainant sometimes turns out to be the offending party. In the cookie story, the woman believed she was such a wonderful person to put up with the rudeness and ingratitude of the man sitting beside her. In the end she discovered that she was the rude and ungrateful one and the man was wonderfully friendly. In the gospel the Pharisee thinks he is the righteous one who is worthy to be in the company of Jesus and that the woman was the sinful one, unworthy to be seen with Jesus. In the end Jesus showed each of them where they really belonged and the woman was seen as the one who was righteous and more deserving of the company of Jesus than the self-righteous Pharisee.

Why do things like this happen? Well, because it is easier to hear the other person than it is to hear yourself snoring. It is easy to notice the fault of other people while being blind to our own faults. Great men and women of God have been, all without exception, people who are so aware of their own inadequacies that they are hardly surprised at other people’s shortcomings. People who delight in criticising others betray their lack of self-awareness. In the end they discover that they themselves are indeed the cookie thieves that they accuse others to be.

But what was the mistake of the Pharisee? If the woman was indeed a prostitute where then did he err? After all, what he said about the woman was true, wasn’t it? Of course the woman was a sinner. Jesus did not say that the woman was not a sinner. Jesus only said that the man was a sinner too, and in fact a worse sinner than the woman.

I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love (Luke 7:44-47).

The problem of the Pharisee was his notion of sin and holiness. For him the woman was an “occasion of sin” to be avoided by godly people. Jesus corrects him: it is not what you avoid that counts, it is what you do. The Pharisee might indeed have avoided occasions of sin, but he did nothing for Jesus in need. The woman, on the other hand, attended to the practical needs of Jesus. Jesus accepts the woman’s external show of love as a clear manifestation of inner faith: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (verse 50). This practical engagement is the crucial difference between her and the Pharisee. How do we employ our faith in practical service of the needy?

Today’s gospel is good news indeed to all who have been humiliated by the “good people” of this world, humiliated in a supposed concern to maintain the standard of holiness in the household of God. Jesus assures them that they are indeed closer to the heart of God than their accusers have made them to believe. And to those who, like the Pharisee, feel that Jesus is their exclusive birthright, the Good News for them today is simple: Watch it, lest in the end you discover that it is you who are the cookie thief after all.

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